Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Owner and (future) Mom Talks About Gun Paranoia

Let me preface this by explaining something. I'm a gun owner. I use guns. I kill large animals with them. I occasionally target practice for fun. I'm a pretty good shot with a rifle.

I got a BB gun when I was, what, 9? and we'd target practice in the yard several times a week. I took a hunter's safety course when I was 13, killed my first deer when I was 14. There were always guns in the house, my dad has had a concealed weapon's permit since I was a kid, and we always had a handgun in the car when we went on a road trip. I feel comfortable with a gun in my hands, and that's because I was taught from an early age that they are tools, but dangerous ones; to respect them, how to use them properly, how to clean them, etc., and plan to teach my own kid the same. And I won't even mention how many hours I've spent on FPS games.

So any of you who disagree with me can skip the "you're only AFRAID of guns because you don't understand them!" BS.

Yeah, I'm a gun owner, and I want better gun control in the US. Crazy, socialist things, like actual, effective, back ground checks, an effective ban on cock-extenders assault rifles and large ammo clips, and maybe even *gasp* monthly buy limits.

There's this video being passed around that's supposed to be a great example of how armed citizens could "stop a massacre".

1) This was two teenaged boys, one with a bat, one with a gun, trying to make some easy money. The second that someone shoots at them, they run away. Not even close to a "massacre". There's a huge, f**king chasm of difference between that and a suicidal, mentally ill loner with homicide on his mind, pockets full of ammo, and nothing to lose.

2) The "hero" starts out with a good shooting stance, two handed, steady, but it quickly dissolves to him shooting wildly from the hip, swinging the gun all over the place, barely even sighting in on the target before firing, all while other people run around the crowded room. I've seen kids playing laser tag who have better firing technique (which probably explains how he fired 7 or more times from a short distance and hit one guy twice and the other not at all). Compare it to the firing stance used by these police officers in much more stressful situations*.

3) The last shot is out the f**king front door as the the two kids are running away. It stopped being "self defense" after the second shot and turned into some kind of vigilante shooting spree. I'm not at all surprised this happened in Florida, where it's also apparently fine and dandy to kill teens to protect yourself from loud music.

And this, my friends, is the absolutely best case scenario for this sort of this, and it was mostly luck. It's luck that a stray bullet didn't injure someone, and luck that the criminal with the gun was a scared kid who turned and ran instead of ducking behind something and starting a firefight.

If I were there, I would much rather risk having my wallet stolen while waiting the five minutes for the police to arrive (you know, those people with guns who have extensive training in how to use them in public) than get hit by a stray bullet from Citizen Concealed cock-enhancer Carry over there.

And then we have the fact that these libertarian-types keeps saying, "more guns! If there were more guns, everyone safer! Because... guns!"

Except that the US already has a lot of guns. Lots, and lots of them. More per capita than any other "first world" country, and yet we still have the highest level of assault deaths per capita. How many more guns does it take, exactly, before we're all safe from these extremely rare events that are impossible to predict? Are the lives already lost because of gun ownership somehow worth less than those that might be saved during one of these vanishingly rare terrorist attacks?

Even if we ignore studies like this which thoroughly debunk this idea, how do these people reconcile the fact that, in every single other "first world" nation, fewer guns appears to correlate with LESS crime? Is the US just special?

*Look, I know police officers aren't perfect, but I trust them approximately a thousand times more than I do random Joe Schmoe on the street who's only experience with firearms outside a shooting range is in his over-active fantasy life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'm pregnant! Lets celebrate with some snark

For those who don't know, there is this popular thing where parents-to-be track pregnancy progress with a "week by week" calendar. There are like a million versions of them, but they all have a lot in common: they're all tailored to mid-to-upper-class women in heterosexual relationships who are having a planned pregnancy with a wanted, healthy fetus in a first world country and either stay at home or have jobs that don't require extreme/repetitive physical labor that they can afford to quit early if need be.

These "calendars" are often scientifically inaccurate to one degree or another, and they are universally so full of sickly-sweet rainbows and fluffy bunnies that they made me gag even before I got morning sickness. And they always, ALWAYS, compare the "size of your baby" to a fruit or vegetable. Sometimes, the fruit choices are downright bizarre. How does knowing that my fetus is the size of a kumquat help me visualize it? No one reading these things knows what a kumquat is!

So, I decided to do my own version of a pregnancy calendar. This first part is week one through my current week. My plan is to continue to follow my own gestational progress, or until I get bored with it or actually give birth. Whichever comes first. (The guide I'll be using is the Mayo clinic's book on pregnancy, which is succinct, scientifically accurate, never compares babies to fruit, and is completely humorless).

Warning: sarcasm and dark humor ahead.
Oh, and by the way, I considered not writing about pregnancy/parenting at all, since it seems a bit outside the normal topics I write about here. But then I was all like, dude, this is my blog. I write what I'm thinking about, and holy shitballs am I thinking about this. A lot.

Week 1, Day 1

How big is your "baby"?
It doesn't exist yet, because today is actually the first day of your last menstrual cycle. Because OBGYNs want to make you do math, today is considered the first day of pregnancy... or gestation... sometimes. But... only once you DO become pregnant. So, this day only becomes important retroactively, two weeks in the future when fertilization happens.

This is an asinine practice; in all other mammals, we measure gestational period as starting with fertilization. So, if you want to compare humans with other mammals, subtract 14 days. Well, sometimes, because, to make it more confusing, sometimes doctors and scientists DO count only from fertilization (aka "conception" another word only used in humans). I'll be doing it this way, because the other way doesn't make sense.

Fun Fact: gestational period becomes more complicated to measure in some animals because "pregnancy" doesn't always immediately follow fertilization. In embryonic diapause, the zygote remains dormant until environmental conditions are more favorable, sometimes for months or years.

This alone is an interesting phenomenon, but not as interesting as the bizarre lab experiments it has inspired.

It sounds like a really handy trait to have (assuming you could control it somehow), and I'm surprised that the only sci-fi reference for it is Farscape (where it didn't work out very well).

Anyway, if you're trying to conceive on purpose, this is a time when you've probably already started taking a daily pre-natal vitamin. The irony is, if you have access to pre-natal vitamins (and the education to know that they exist in the first place), you may not need them because you probably get all the nutrients you need from your rich and varied diet. But it's still a good idea. Especially when a lack of folic acid can lead to such horrendous (and preventable) birth defects like anecephaly and spina bifida. Go ahead and google those. I'll be here when you get back (and the nightmares have subsided).

Fun fact: they make pre-natal vitamins that taste like sour patch worms! (which is to say: Man I love living in the United States in the year 2012! I am not being sarcastic!)

Actual Week 1, Day 1 (aka Week 2, Day 7?)

This is the day you probably conceive, if you're the average woman.

This involves a man ejaculating, there's no getting around it. If you're fertilizing your egg the old fashioned way, approximately 280 million sperm are deposited into your vagina, but only a fraction of them make it to the egg which is hanging out waaaay up in the upper oviduct (a trip that takes between 5 minutes and an hour).

Fun Fact: Domestic bovines produce an average of 3 billion sperm per ejaculation and their travel time is only 2-3 minutes. This amazes me; the distance is further, the pathway more crowded, yet they gets there so much faster than in humans.

Extra-fun fact: I have personally, via anal electoprob, caused quite a few bull ejaculations in the last two years of employment at a mixed-practice veterinary clinic. I have lost count; more than a dozen, fewer than a hundred.

How big is your "baby"?
About the size of an amoeba. In the minutes after that one, special sperm wiggles through the egg's outer layer of cells, cell division starts and the separate haploid cells of egg + sperm combine to form a free-floating zygote (which includes the cells that will become the placenta).

Fun fact: if you were a domestic cat (or any other induced-ovulator), the act of copulation itself is what stimulates you to drop an egg or ten from your ovaries. Can you imagine how terrible it would be if humans were induced-ovulators? Every time you had intercourse: BAM! a follicle explodes an egg out into your tubes. Fun.

Still Week 1 (around Day 4)

How big is your zygote?
Still about the size of an amoeba. Today is the special day that the zygote finishes its journey through the fallopian tube and reaches the lining of the uterus. There, it's secretes  nasty destructive enzymes that eat through the lining of the uterus so the this little life-sucking creature can burrow deep into the wall of the uterus and attach itself to your lifeblood. Rarely, this process continues out of control and the woman can hemorrhage to death as the enzymes eat uncontrolled through large blood vessels.

Pregnancy is truly a wondrous thing.

Assuming the woman survives, the zyogote is now known as a blastocyst, and consists of about 100 cells.

This is also when the litttle bundle of joy starts secreting the hCG hormone (you know, this one), which causes most of the unpleasant side effects of pregnancy like nausea, vomiting, sore breasts, mood swings, and crying at Kay Jewelers commercials. Therefore, today is the day you could realize you're pregnant. It's also the first day that home pregnancy tests can be used accurately.

Week 2

No one ever talks about week two. Week one is exciting because conception happens. Week three is exciting because it's the start of organ development. Week two is kind of relegated to "more of week one stuff". IE: cell division happens. Boooorrring.

Week 3

How big is your embryo? About the size of an adult German cockroach. It's not much more than a worm-like tube lined with rudimentary mucus membranes and the beginnings of a circulatory system, however at this point we get to call it an embryo! It's the beginning of major organ formation, so now is an especially good time to avoid things like cocaine and high levels of radiation.

Week 4

How big is your embryo?
About the size and shape of a housefly maggot. Though the heart may have started beating, the body is not recognizable. There is a "head region" and a tail, and maybe an opening where the mouth will be. That's about it.

Week 5

How big is your embryo?
About 1/3 inch long. Now, in addition to a head region and a tail-ish lookin' thing, there's also stubby little limb-like projections.

Week 6 - 8

How big is your embryo?
About the size of a newborn kangaroo. This is the point, in my opinion, when your embryo looks the most like an alien from a B movie: it has four flipper-like limbs, a long tail, bulbous head, and unblinking eyes.

Week 9-11

This is the first week where you can start to relax a little bit (if you have a wanted pregnancy) and stop freaking out every time you get a gas cramp: the rate of miscarriage drops dramatically at this point, and greatest risk of environmentally-caused birth defects has passed. Most major organs are formed, and we can officially call this little bundle of joy a fetus.

The irony is, of course, that the riskiest time for birth defects happens during the period where many women don't even know they're pregnant yet, and may not know to be cautious about their lifestyle.

Then again, there are some women who don't realize they're pregnant until the day they give birth.

Week 12 (end of first trimester)

How big is your fetus?
The size of a deer mouse.
Those of us with a wanted pregnancy can relax a little more as miscarriage rates drop even further at this point.

Sadly, this is also the point where, if you play contact sports like rugby or roller derby, you want to stop the contact part. The fetus is no longer fully protected by your pelvic bones. Ironically, at the same time that you have to slow down your own workout routine, the fetus is just starting to pick one up as this is the time when nerves and muscles start to function.

Tune in next week! There may be hiccups!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Pit Bull Stuff

James and Swami, Dallas, TX

1) I'm totally stopping my own blog series "anecdotal pit bull" because I've found an even better version of it: the Animal Farm Foundation's "Majority Project". It's just a huge, constantly-growing group of photographs of normal, mundane people who own pit bull dogs. Pit bulls are a very popular type of pet dog. The end.

2) And this article from HugABull: "From Skeptic to Breed Advocate"

Which is similar to my own experience, I guess.

I clearly remember the first time I met a "pit bull". I was about 12, and was at a friend's house for a sleep over or something. We took a walk to her neighbor's house to meet their new puppy, which was little, and cute and wiggly and kissy, and then the owner told us it was a pit bull.

My first thought was, "oh is that what they look like?" my second was, "oh, too bad it will grow up to be aggressive." I wasn't scared, because obviously it wasn't aggressive right that second, but I was puzzled why this family chose such a dangerous breed when, (surely!) they knew it would turn on them one day. We finished petting the puppy, and went back home, and I mostly forgot about it.

As far as I remember, I didn't do much more thinking about "pit bulls" until I got into college and started volunteering at the local shelter. There were lots of pit bulls and mixes there. I walked a lot of them. I trained with some of them. Sometimes there would be one in the 'off limits' area that was aggressive or a fear-biter.

In other words, "pit bull" dogs were just like all the other dog types at the shelter; a mix of personalities, back stories, and behavior. You judged each dog's individual behavior and needs before taking it out of the kennel. Aside from weight and/or strength, looks didn't help with that judgement at all.

I don't remember when I changed my mind, exactly. There was no "ah hah" moment, just a slow progression to "breed advocate" over the next few years. I think it helped that it coincided with my first, unfettered access to high speed internet and the flood of information available.

It also helped that Corvallis is a very dog-friendly town in general, (Kelly Dunbar visited the shelter once and said she saw more people out walking their dogs in her one afternoon driving through Corvallis than she saw in any other city in an entire day.). Lots of dog parks. Lots of hiking trails with public  poop bag dispensers. Lots of yuppies walking pit bulls in sweaters to the farmer's market. Sort of Portlandia Lite (TM), if you see what I'm saying.

In other words, a perfect place to lose your biases of pit bulls. There's just too many of them, out in public, being normal dogs.

I still don't feel like a "breed advocate", even though I've been labeled a "pit bull nutter" by several pit bull haters. They're not a breed/type that calls to me the way that, say,  border collies do. The only reason I talk so much about "pit bulls" is that .... I just like dogs. And logic. Pit bull hysteria is stupid and causing a lot of families a lot of grief, and killing a lot of really good dogs, all to satisfy some "if only one child is saved!" fallacy of risk assessment.

Stupid people who kill dogs, directly or indirectly, piss me off. That's really all it's about.

Leslie and Dante

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sammy goes crazy for body spray

What's the allure? She gets more excited about this stuff than she does about dead fish.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vaccine wankery from well-meaning people

In case my comment gets removed (and so no one need suffer by missing a piece of wisdom from yours truly). Last week I spent a bit of my time on a comment in response to this blog post .

Here it is. Enjoy:

I don't disagree that an indoor-only pet may not need a rabies vaccine - rabies isn't like panleuk or upper respiratory infections that can be tracked in on your shoes, for example. But the risks from vaccines in general are very small. Why such the freak out? The links you provided just go to highly biased and non-scientific "opinion" websites. Not very convincing.

And there are not "countless" studies that say that vaccines are "damaging". That's false, or at least dishonest. There *are* well-documented and well-known risks from vaccinating, but serious reactions or development of soft-tissue sarcomas are very, very rare; Statistics we have aren't great, but indicate less than 1 in 100,000 risk. You put your cat in more risk by driving him to the clinic in a motor vehicle.

It's unfair to say that the woman's response meant she "didn't care about the health of animals" and it was "just to make money".

It's standard to vaccinate dogs and cats for rabies between ages 3-4 months based on the recommendations of multiple scientific organizations using current health data. And it's very reasonable for a humane society clinic to insist on vaccinating upon intake for spay/neuter surgery - from their perspective, they're dealing with a lot of animals who may never see a vet again in their life. It's in their best interest, and the best interest of the community as a whole,  to help maintain good herd immunity in the community they're serving.

Here are some less-biased links:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lengthy Jay Lake quote'o'the day

"I'm a relentless empiricist, firmly moored in the world of logos, who doesn't have any trouble acknowledging the value and power of mythos as a key component of human existence. Including my own personal version of mythos.

My sometimes ugly public quarrels with religion and the religious have entirely to do with people confusing their personal beliefs with some form of objective truth, and then projecting that confusion into the public square to the detriment of both themselves and the rest of society. When it comes to religion, I am a First Amendment absolutist. I will defend to the death your right to worship as you please (and equally my right to find your worship ridiculous); and I will defend to the death my right to be entirely free of the pleasures of your worship.

In the faith-holding sense, I don't believe in anything. The universe just is, evolution and thermodynamics don't require my spiritual assent to exist, any more than gravity or climate change or tomatoes do. That's not to say I'm some mindless, amoral spiritual void. My mythos is always aboil, bubbling over, as anyone who's ever read my fiction can probably attest. I just don't confuse the structures of my consciousness with the external reality of the world."

From his personal blog.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I'm not much of a romantic, I guess

This Guardian article I ran across today needs a new headline:

Advances in technology leads to slightly larger handful of rich elites able to climb Mt. Everest every year. This is bad because... ROMANCE RUINED.

OK, fine, that's his opinion; boo hoo for him that he doesn't like that the unwashed masses are DARING to tread where only rich white men were allowed to go before. Whatever. That he thinks that the motivations of modern-day Everest climbers is somehow LESS WORTHY than the motivations of climbers from 50 years ago is pompous and irritating, but beside the point.

But, really? The first paragraph: "This is a photograph of all that has gone wrong in humanity's relationship with nature... it is a picture of how profoundly we are failing to have any kind of decent respect for our world: how our romance with nature has become sick and twisted."

Gimmee a break.

This is a photo of a sick and twisted relationship with nature.
Also, this and this and this and this.

Having a few extra rich people who are able to stomp around a sterile mountain top? Not even on the f*)cking radar.

Dear nature tourism is a good thing. Those same tourists that are cluttering up your view of Everest are the same ones who are literally pulling species back from the brink of extinction.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A brief moment of thanks

In the words of another:

"If more of us are dying of cancer and heart disease, it’s because many, many fewer of us are dying from diptheria, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, rubella, plague, influenza, malaria, common bacterial infections, polio, typhus, childbirth, “childbed” (puerperal) fever, malnutrition, scurvy, &c... The more I learn about the distant past, the happier I am that I never had to live there.  I feel like I won the f^(king lottery every day of my life to have been born when and where I was born, a middle-class American in the late middle of the twentieth century.  ...  I will probably live to die of heart disease, or cancer, or kidney disease, or sclerosis of the arteries.  Hooray!  I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I must acknowledge how relatively fortunate I have been to have survived this far."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Some Thanksgiving Links

There's a reason this blog has been lacking in content recently, and soon I will tell you.

For now, here's some semi-random Thanksgiving related links for you.

This is very close to the 'pumpkin' pie recipe I use (for the last four years anyway, since I discovered delicata squashes). Guys. It is so much more delicious than canned pumpkin. If you're a fan of pumpkin pie, try making it from a delicata squash.

Food photography at its best. I want to fall into this picture and hang out/live in this rustic place.

Raising and slaughtering turkeys - the way it should be done.

I've never poached anything (hunting or cooking), but this photo of poached wild turkey makes my mouth water.

And here's a fully-random photo of my dad picking chanterelles on a very wet day Thanksgiving day in 2009.

Mushroom hunting with dad

Have a great week everyone.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Canadian Horse Slaughter Plants Grind to a Halt?


There are (somewhat) unconfirmed reports that all the facilities in Canada that slaughter US horses are stopping production as of this weekend. The rumor is that the European Union (the biggest buyer of US horse meat) has started actually residue testing US horse meat and finding that much of the meat has unacceptable levels of veterinary drugs.

The only thing that surprises me about this is that it took so long. EU members are notoriously finicky about "chemicals" in their food (consider all the fighting over GMO foods, and they have some of the strictest pesticide use laws in the world).

The EU released this brochure back in June. Page 5 has the most relevant bit: "Residue monitoring requirements for non-EU countries wishing to export food of animal origin to the EU: ...a centrally co-ordinated residue monitoring plan must be in place." There is, of course, no such thing in the US for horses, because horses are not treated like meat animals.

Allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment:

There are some people trying to build a slaughter facility specifically for horses right here in the community I live in. It's sort of a hot topic right now.

I recently read an infuriating op-ed in the local newspaper (the June 30th 2012 issue of the Hermiston Herald, although I didn't read it until last month). A local woman named Letitia Kidder, who supports having a horse slaughter plant in Hermiston, wrote what I'm sure she thought was a moving story about her first horse when she was a child, Whiskey, and why it was important that we always have the option of selling horses for slaughter.

Her horse went lame, and was (her words): "diagnosed with advanced navicular disease in both front feet, a crippling and painful disease... Her parents had already spent quite a bit of money on the veterinary diagnosis and care with special shoeing... then medication on top of that..." (emphasis mine).

Ms. Kidder then goes on to explain that she kept the horse on "a horse aspirin-type medication" for awhile, but couldn't keep him as a pet because "she would need a horse to ride," and her family couldn't afford two horses.

"The safe and affordable option was for him to be sold for meat purposes," she writes.

"Affordable"? For her 10-year-old self so she could have the luxury of a riding horse? Yes, certainly. But "safe"? For who? Not for Whiskey, he got death that was stressful at best, and terribly inhumane at worst, at the hands of people who didn't give a sh*t about him, her "beloved" pet. Not the French people who ate some steaks with who knows what level of phenylbutazone.

She, and a number like her in the community I live in, are still using the old argument that we "need" horse slaughter so that lame, drugged-up pet horses have a place to go (as if there were no other options). Except that the same horses they say are "saved" by slaughter, aren't supposed to be allowed to go in the first place. "Whiskey" probably wouldn't have even been bought by our local kill-buyer because of his lameness. And he certainly shouldn't be going to slaughter after all the 'bute he was given.

Sorry Ms. Kidder, your family would have had to suck it up and pay a vet to humanely euthanize Whiskey, or ask a neighbor to borrow a gun and a bullet. You would have had to spend money instead of make fifty bucks or whatever pittance you got from the carcass of your "little sorrel quarter horse with a heart of gold." (Seriously, she wrote that in her article advocating horse slaughter).

So. Residue monitoring of horse meat.

Here is how it works: kill-buyers want fat, healthy horses that they can buy cheap from the newspaper or auction, put on a truck and ship to Canada as soon as possible. Turn around is often less than a week; sometimes horses are bought and put on a truck the same day. The faster a kill-buyer turns around "product", the less s/he has to spend on feed, and the less likely a horse will be injured, go lame, or start showing signs of communicable disease, any of which will get it turned away at the border.

Horses that go to auction could be drugged with all kinds of things that the EU will test for later. 'Bute and Ace are so common, most horse owners have some lying around the barn, even though they're supposedly prescription-only.

There is no incentive for a horse seller to disclose that they 'buted their horse before the sale so it wouldn't look lame. There used to be no incentive for a kill-buyer to ask, either, as long as the horse passed the (very basic) USDA requirements for shipping (no runny nose, no blindness, and no lameness), it didn't matter. But now that shipments are actually being tested, that's going to change. And I have a hard time seeing ANY kill buyer who is willing to pay to have horses' blood tested for residues. Not only is such a test (relatively) expensive, but it would have to be sent to a lab, which would add days to turn around time. Unless the price of horse meat drastically increases, this change in policiy in the EU will make it not worth it for a horse trader to ship horses to Canadian slaughter plants. Hell, it probably wouldn't even be worth it if there was a plant right here in Hermiston.

If the EU really is going to continue to monitor imported US horse meat for drug and pesticide residues, the horse slaughter industry as we know it will end. And I won't miss it at all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Every. Night.

This is the Sammy Show. We get to watch it every single night.

She also does this when one of us comes home.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Third Grade Voice

I've been doing this animal rescue thing for, what, ten years now? Started with volunteering as a dog walker at a shelter, and now I've worked my way up to starting my very own non-profit.

And from the beginning, I've scratched my head in honest confusion at pit bull haters.

I still don't get it. I truely, honestly, do not understand these people. Sometimes they make me angry, sometimes I feel like writing entire essays about or at them, sometimes to rant, sometimes to gently change minds.

And then, sometimes, I just feel like sticking my fingers in my ears, sticking out my tongue, and shouting "NEENER NEENER" at them.

"Neener neener! This dog I've been fostering for a month that needed expensive surgery is a pit bull mix! I've spent time and money on her, and now she's just been adopted by a really great (also, rich) family who have another pit bull and now she gets to live a long, happy life with lots of cuddles, walks, trips to the beach, and play times with another dog and kids and oh by the way HA HA, they live in a place where it's super unlikely that BSL will ever touch them! AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT! NEENER NEENER!"

You want to kill puppies like Jenga? Too bad for you.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Archeologists Evicerate "Paleo Diet"

This made me lol into my Ramen tonight.

The seminar titles alone are worth the price of admission:

It’s When You Mate, Not What You Ate"


"Papayas Ain’t Paleo, and Neither Are You"

“The notion that we have not yet adapted to eat wheat, yet we have had sufficient time to adapt to kale or lentils is ridiculous. In fact, for most practitioners of the Paleo Diet, who are typically westerners, the majority of the food they consume has been available to their gene pool for less than five centuries. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, avocados, pecans, cashews, and blueberries are all New World crops, and have only been on the dinner table of African and Eurasian populations for probably 10 generations of their evolutionary history. Europeans have been eating grain for the last 10,000 years; we’ve been eating sweet potatoes for less than 500. Yet the human body has seemingly adapted perfectly well to yams, let alone pineapple and sunflower seeds.”

-- "Dr. Karl Fenst, bioarchaeologist"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Animal welfare FAIL from a supposed skeptic

Skeptifem, a blogger I enjoy reading about 75% of the time, has a hate-on for pit bulls. She is in the health care field, and has experience in some kind of hospital setting where she has seen some dog bite injuries. She uses this as a reason to support anti-breed policies and to rant about those crazy "pit bull apologists".

I don't mind when people have uninformed opinions about animal welfare. I'm used to it (I work at a vet clinic, after all). It's when they use their misinformation and gut feelings to try to hurt animals that I love. For no reason.

The most recent post on this subject is here, where she tries to school all of us on the No-kill movement and how misguided it is, especially when it comes to treatment of aggressive dogs. Needless to say, the post is so dense with misinformation it needs an entire other blog post to correct it all.

Paragraph 1: She writes that people in the no-kill movement "tend to think that no animal should be euthanized for any reason,".

This is blatantly not true. Although the term "no-kill" can be initially confusing to some, the movement (No-kill with a capital "N") is aimed at ending the needless killing of adoptable pets in shelters, not an end to humane euthanasia. This is clearly stated by every single influential leader of the no-kill movement (starting with Nathan Winograd, who wrote the freakin' book for goodness' sake). Even those who might be considered on the "fringe" for believing that animals should not be killed due to any behavior issue, still believe in humane euthanasia.

Now, of course there's debate within the movement about the gray areas of what constitutes "adoptable", but no one, anywhere, except maybe some crazy hoarders on the outsides of the movement, believe that there should literally be no euthanasia.

When it comes to her agenda about BSL and pit bulls, Skeptifem has no problem cherry-picking quotes and events, and ignoring facts that don't support her already-established and immovable world view. This is not skeptical work.

Paragraph 2 is just a big pile of un-informed and un-cited fail:

1) " isn't as though shelters kill dogs for fun"

Actually, some animal control folks have killed shelter animals for fun. Or, at least, killed and had fun doing it.

And even those shelters that kill adoptable pets without apparent enjoyment don't get a free pass - not when there have been so many documented examples of them killing despite life-saving alternatives.

One of the primary tenets of the modern No-kill movement is to hold animal shelters accountable for killing adoptable animals. The old-school view is that animal shelters somehow get a free pass to do anything they want, just because they're animal shelters. They're "doing the best they can", even as employees kill animals for "space" without even trying to adopt them out first, even though there are alternatives that are proven to work.

2) "Adoptable dogs, such as those with aggression issues... are most likely to be euthanized in a shelter situation."

And where is the citation for this? It may be true that a dog that growls at a shelter employee will be the first on the kill list, but if you look at actual shelter reports, most animals are being killed for "space", not health or behavioral issues.

3) "...makes it impossible for every shelter to be a no-kill shelter."

Nathan Winograd has already crunched the numbers. There are more than enough homes for every shelter pet. Note also that these numbers take into account that a certain percentage of sheltered animals will need to be euthanized. So, no it is in fact very possible for every shelter to be No-kill. It could happen literally tomorrow, if every kill shelter suddenly decided to follow the advice of the No-kill revolution.

Paragraph 3: "[Sanctuary for aggressive dogs]... It is a nice idea. But does it work?"

Yes, it can work, and work very well. This is proven through the excellent work of many sanctuaries (ever seen the TV show DogTown? It's, like, on TV).

A better, more honest question would be: Does it always work, for every dog? I doubt it. Are there dogs that should be euthanized due to behavior problems? I think so, and so do many No-kill advocates.

Spindletop Sanctuary is not exactly a "typical" example of an animal sanctuary ("boarding", really?), and yet she discusses it as if it were. She wrote this entire blog post about sanctuaries for aggressive dogs, and the only one she discusses, links to, or even names, barely qualifies as a sanctuary at all, let alone a typical example of one.

If someone without an axe to grind about aggressive dogs were to pick a more typical example of a dog sanctuary, a better choice would be either Best Friends, (only, ya know, like, the biggest/most influential one in the US), or the Olympic Animal Sanctuary. I have a suspicion that she doesn't mention these facilities because they are doing a pretty good job, the dogs seems happy, the public is not being injured by them, and overall they don't neatly fit her world view.

Paragraph 6: "Life, even an extremely painful or lonely one, is considered to be infinitely better than timely euthanasia by advocates of no-kill ideology."

Blatantly untrue, again. See my point about Paragraph 1.

 "Trying to adopt out 100% of pets can make for dangerous animals getting the opportunity to hurt people or their pets."

Again, blatantly misleading. No one is trying to adopt out 100% of pets. The No-kill revolution explicitly states, multiple times/places/people, that not all pets are savable. Again, according to reports from shelters, most pets are killed for "space," anyway. Estimates are that somewhere  between 90 to 98 percent of shelter pets can be saved. Note that that's NOT 100%.

Strawmen. You haz dem.

Paragraph 7: " When there are not enough resources or homes to go around, careful consideration of resource allocation is absolutely crucial for deciding how to do the most amount of good."

There are enough homes to go around. More than enough. See my point about Paragraph 2. And thank you, so much, for explaining to us, poor, stupid rescue folks that we need to think about resource allocation.

There is, in fact, healthy debate on this subject within the no-kill movement. It's worth discussing. It's not, however, a good argument to simply kill every dog that every growled at someone (which is what I'm assuming she's trying to get at here).

The tired, cliche, "zero-sum" argument is BS. It's the same attitude that anti-pet people have - how dare we spend money on mere animals when there are children starving in Africa, amirite?

 2) "An optimal euthanasia rate, correlated with the rate of animals who must be euthanized because they cannot live comfortably, hasn't been established."

"Optimal" and "euthanasia" probably shouldn't be used together, but I get the point: she still hasn't done much reading about No-kill. If she had, she'd have found out pretty quick that Winograd, and others, have estimated "save rates" based on current shelter statistics: between 90 and 98 percent.

 Paragraph 8: "I have yet to see any no-kill plan that actually addresses these concerns." 

DO SOME FREAKIN' RESEARCH! I don't know what else to say. Many people have addressed these concerns. This post already has too many links.

Which leads me to a very important question for Skeptifem: what is your definition of "aggressive"? You've gone on about how aggressive dogs should be euthanized, but there are a lot of different definitions out there.

Many shelters would label a dog that growled, for any reason, as "aggressive". City/county laws are sometimes vague or just plain dumb when it comes to definitions of "aggressive". A shelter I volunteered at once told us to be very careful playing with the dogs because if they closed their mouth on our skin, we'd have to report it as a bite and then the dog probably couldn't be adopted out.

Is a dog that bites a stranger who trespasses onto her owner's property "aggressive"? What if she bit someone who threatened her owner? What if she bit in self-defense? What if she hates all other dogs, but loves people? What if she growls and cowers away from men, but is relaxed and happy around women and children? What about a friendly dog that is easily excited and knocks people down or nips when they play? What about dogs that are safe at home, but will bite the vet or groomer out of fear? What about dogs that kill small animals, but never act aggressive toward people? What about dogs that have been labeled aggressive, who bite people, but whose owners love them enough to take extra precautions that they never escape the yard?

Really, explain in detail, which dogs deserve to die, and which deserve to live. Because, seein' as how dogs are living, breathing creatures with emotions and complex brains (not so different from humans), they're kinda all sorts of gray area, and not a lot of black and white.

My own dog, Zelda, could be considered "aggressive" - she growls at dogs, she will bite them under the right circumstances, she will growl and nip at people under the right circumstances.

Yet, I (and anyone who's met her) consider her a "safe" dog. She obviously loves people, she will also happily play with other dogs as long as she gets a proper introduction and they're not rude puppies. She lives with another dog, and endures a constant parade of foster dogs that come through my home. Is she worth keeping as a pet, even though she's not an emotionless robot (a robot being the only type of dog that would never nip or growl under any circumstances)?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Black Widow

Found her on the patio today while I was rearranging some potted plants.


I was a bit sad that I had to kill her. She was just doing her thing, eating some ants and hiding under a pot.


Black widow spiders are ubiquitous in this part of the state. This is the seventh one I've found on my house this summer, and that's without looking (don't tell my husband). If I see them in the front yard I let them live because me and the dogs don't spend much time there. But this one was on the patio where the dogs spend a lot of time nosing around, and I just couldn't take the risk.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Identification of Mixed Breed Dogs

I'm a little late talking about this, but check out this study.

More than 5,000 dog experts, including breeders, trainers, groomers, veterinarians, shelter staff, rescuers, and others completed the survey. They were shown 2 photos of a mixed-breed dog and asked to guess it's ancestry. Then the dogs were DNA tested and the results of the guesses are published next to the results of the DNA test.

Now, I want you to look at the results, but completely ignore the DNA testing. It is not an accurate science, and it is irrelevant. Look at the "Top Responses" column. Every single one of the dogs had at least 5 guesses. In other words, a group of experts couldn't agree that any one of the dogs looked like "predominantly". (In fact, a popular "Top Response" is "No Prominent Breed")

Field identification of a mixed-breed dog is impossible, and pointless. Just like breed specific legislation.

What a Dog looks like to me

Rusty, the current foster, is an almost perfect example of what I picture a dog should look like.

His doggy essence is so very dog-like. He could be from anywhere in the world - a village in Africa, a street dog from Greece, or Mexico or Canada.

Do you know what I mean?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I wanna pet the pony: Is it ever OK to approach loose horses?

A stranger approaches a horse grazing near her family. The mare gives him some very clear body language before going in for the bite. Simple, clear signs like ears pinned, that don't take a PHD in animal behavior to recognize.

(Snagged from Snarky Rider)

Suprisingly, the comments on the video are mostly calm and common sense. Even the poster of the video admits it "wasn't the smartest idea".

I wonder, however, if the man learned anything more complex than "don't approach horses you don't know".

As a general rule, it's a good lesson. However, I've done this myself, and I would do it in the future under the right circumstances. I've studied horses enough to know when it's probably OK to say hi, and when it's better to back off and admire from a distance, and I've never been injured (all my horse-related injuries were from horses I did know).

I'm not trying to preen; I'm well aware I'm a lucky person in general. I just think there's more of a lesson here than simply "don't interact with animals, they're dangerous". How about learning to respect animals as individuals and animals instead of either unpredictable and unknowable demons, or uniformly docile and friendly cardboard pop-ups straight from a children's book.

One time in Wales, I was out walking on a public trail that cut through private land and a stallion approached me. He was calm and relaxed and there were no other horses around so I stood there and let him sniff me over and, after a moment, I gave him a few chest scratches. Then I walked slowly backwards to the gate. I was extra cautious because I was alone and at least a half mile from the nearest building/road and, hey, it's often a bad idea to turn your back on a stud.

Bangor 77

The next time I walked that trail, I saw the same stallion and I approached him this time to take some photos. He remained calm and relaxed.

I think it was that same day, on a different part of the trail, that I ran into a mare with her foal. It was large, at least a yearling if not older. The mare wanted nothing to do with me, and walked away, but the colt came right up to me and after a minute started to become dangerously playful and pushy. So I backed toward the fence and left.

Bangor 74

These brief encounters may seem unnecessary, but done correctly and respectfully, interacting with  animals is very rewarding. Why would I give that up because there might be some risk? If that's the way I lived my life, I'd never get into a car.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Things accomplished this weekend

- Seven kittens sent to Portland to be neutered and adopted out.

- Three kittens freshly vaccinated and dewormed and sent into local foster home.

- One adult cat delivered to his new home in Eugene.

- One friend (who I haven't seen in a year) hung out with.

- One wedding attended.

- Six hundred miles traveled.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things acomplished this weekend

~ Worked a half-day on Saturday.

~ Took Zelda, Sammy, and the husband to the river. The dogs got exercise, Tom got some vitamin D (a known deficiency in computer nerds), I got some photos and collected interesting things;  a usable fishing lure, some sparkly black sand, and some agates.
~ Finished Game of Thrones season two. OK, so not really an accomplishment
~ Three loads of laundry
~ Updated some Petfinder profiles for rescue dogs.
~ Cleaned the bedroom/office
~ Loaded up a box of old clothes for Good Will
~ Cleaned the patio, watered the container garden, snacked on some fresh peas, weeded, ate three strawberries, picked two squashes
~ Vaccinated 8 kittens at two different locations and delivered kitten milk replacer
~ Harvested cilantro seeds from one of my patio containers

~ Trimmed toenails on Zelda, Sammy and both foster puppies. It was the pups' first nail trimming, so we took it slow; about five minutes per foot (treats were tiny bits of stale corn chips)
~ Brewed a quart of ice tea and drank half of it
~ Made a batch of guacamole and ATE IT ALL

Puppy Action Shots




Sunday, July 8, 2012

It's too hot to play fetch

It's 103 outside today. Time for a couples rounds of Warblegarble!

Zelda prefers to hang back, while Sammy likes to be as close to the action as possible. We usually play this game until she vomits.

(Video two has BONUS! Confused Foster Puppy footage.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Man still riding horses at age 101

He started riding at age 80 and he's recently had to buy a new horse because his original is getting too old.

 Original story here

This guy reminds me a lot of my gramma. She doesn't ride horses, but she can still golf 18 holes. When she was 80, she fell in love and got remarried. That was over 10 years ago, and she's not slowed down much. Apparently no one told these people that they weren't supposed to do that kind of thing at their age.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Answer to last week's "Guess the mixed breed"

The father to the litter of puppies I posted last week is a beagle/basset hound mix. He's about 35 lbs.


The mother is (drumroll please) a 1 year old, 10 lb chihuahua. She's like the eighth wonder of the world for being able to give birth naturally to those three puppies, who surpassed her in size and weight before they were 14 weeks old.


I'd be interested in reader's thoughts about the genetics of puppy #1, with all his white specklyness:


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Three Border Collie Faces

From last month.

IMG_4826a Sammy



IMG_4794a BONUS! Sammy. Because we could all use a little extra Sammy in our lives.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guess the breed mix

Three 14-week-old puppies from the same litter (the chance of multiple dads is very very low).

Hint: they're a mix of three different, well-known breeds. The dam is "purebred" something, the sire is half and half.

I'll post photos of the parents in a few days.




Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Teifa has gone home! (and other updates)

On Sunday, I drove out to Yakima to meet Teifa's adopters. They're a really lovely couple from Seattle who are sending daily updates and being very patient with her skittishness. I'm so happy that this ridiculous dog found a family who deserves her.


What else has been happening, let us see...

(WARNING! Not all these updates are nice, sensitive souls may want to skip the first paragraph below. MJ I'm looking at you)

I took in a day-old bottle baby orphaned by a terrific wind storm. The poor thing died two days later, making it the first casualty under my Fuzz Ball Animal Rescue (unless you count Ranger, the hound dog that had wandered around the countryside for a week after being shot in the head three times and by the time a kind stranger brought him into the vet basically his entire skull was full of infection. Technicaly that happened before I founded the rescue). This was followed by a woman with low-income calling asking for help with her aggressive, outdoor-only-no-way-I-can-keep-him-inside, fight-starting, snotty FeLV-positive cat that she could no longer keep. I paid for his euthanasia over the phone without even meeting the woman or the cat or the vet. I have mixed feelings about this.

Meanwhile, the same storm blew off a third of our roof and broke the front gate and couple of my planters. Now we have a brand-new roof! Yay insurance!


I had four kittens in my bathroom for a couple of weeks. One's been adopted, the other three went to a foster home last night.

I almost had to have eight puppies in my house, but luckily the bosses allowed them to stay at the clinic while I arranged transport to a shelter in a more populated area. Note to people who have an urge to leave their 8 puppies at the back door of a vet clinic in the dead of night: we would have helped you with these puppies anyway. Call first next time.

I currently have one cat in my garage. He was a stray, and supposed to be a "cheap turnaround"; I give him some TLC until he got over his URI; neuter; vaccinate, and then adopt him out for a reasonable fee that covered his costs. So of course he had to have a defective salivary gland that caused saliva to back up into the tissues under his tongue, making a water-balloon the size of my thumb that required surgical removal of the gland to fix. This is pretty much the same thing that happened with Pirate Jane, the calico that needed to have her eye removed. (She's also been adopted, by the way).

On the other hand, I'm finally getting my act together and putting together the paperwork to become an official non-profit. Tax-deductible donations here I come!

I'm also on a roller derby team. Three, two-hour practices per week, and a bout one Saturday each month. And if you read that and had a thought akin to, "hmm, roller derby sounds frivolous compared to other stuff she could be doing", let me assure you that getting aggression out several times a week is worth the time spent, and it's cheaper than a gym membership.

Between a full time job, including working one to two Saturdays per month, rescue, roller derby, bonding with my husband over Diablo III several hours per week, gardening, hiking with the dogs. photography (which I will get up online one of these days), and all the stuff I plan to do, like go fishing, and maybe actually make some art one of these days, and get back into agility with my dogs... I'm a busy lass.

Which is to say, I suppose, sorry I haven't been updating the blog very much.

How has the last four months been for the rest of you?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

State of the garden

I planted my garden last week. Finally finished building the raised beds (from recycled fence boards, like I promised), and spent a veeeery long Saturday filling them with soil/compost/manure. We don't own a wheel barrow, and I didn't want to buy one for just occasional use, so I carried all that dirt from the back of the pickup to the backyard beds in a bucket. Pro tip: if you're in this situation, the head balance method of carrying really is the best. It distributes weight evenly and doesn't strain any one muscle group. Try it sometime. Don't worry about the neighbors staring.

Anyway, like usual, I'm going a bit crazy with plant lust. I can't enter garden departments without getting twitchy and leaving with at least one plant start or package of seeds. It's worse than ever because of the new yard. Last year, with only a north-facing apartment patio, I was forced to have only a single tomato plant. Now, I've filled the raised beds and I've got a huge patio to stick pots on. I just finished  planting my fourth container of peas because I can, dammit.

Being able to grow your own food is powerful, in ways I don't quite have the word-skill to describe. I'm not even growing that much; a mere snack compared to my family's yearly intake. But, still. They're alive, and they're growing, and they're there because I put them there, and I get to eat them.


I have power tools, and I'm not afraid to use them



This is what it took to fill three raised beds that are approximately 4'x5'x1': a pickup bed full of soil, six 60 lb bags of finished compost, and half a pickup bed worth of half-green horse manure I picked up from a friend's pasture. And I did it all myself because Tom was having allergy-induced asthma that weekend.


The underground automatic sprinkler system is an interesting conundrum. One the one hand, they're really nice to have to water such a large yard, and very convenient to use. On the other, I wouldn't have wanted all that water-wasting grass in the first place, and I don't like the lack of control I have for watering the raised beds; I have to water them and that section of lawn at the same time.

I live in a freaking desert. If this were a house we planned to live in for the rest of our lives, I'd probably rip it all out, expand my garden to fill most of the yard, install soaker hoses or drip lines, mulch the dog's play area, and turn the front yard into dry landscaping with native plants. But since we're probably going to be selling the house in a few years, I feel the need to keep all the grass and sprinkler system as a selling point.

 I've got ten strawberry, four tomato, two cucumber, three zucchini, and two cantaloupe.

There are potatoes volunteering in the "failed" compost bins. They're free to do their thing. Perhaps in a few months I will scrub the cat poop off some little potatoes and have them with dinner!

Sweet pepper, miniature pumpkins, a pot of perennial flowers of some kind that came with the house, black-eyed susans, and a freshly-planted pot of thyme, and another one planted with some kind of native lupine seeds I collected from a wild plant, like, six years ago. Who knows if they'll actually germinate.

Cilantro which has already gone to flower (pollinators love them, by the way); Pea plants and future pea plants (I've already been eating peas for the last week); A jade plant on a field trip; future chives; future additional cilantro; parsley.

I think there will be more, later.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


It's the season. I've got food on my mind (even more than usual). Here are some links.

~Ethical meat-eater putting her money where her mouth is (Honey Rock Dawn)
~Then the New York Times chimes in: The Ethics of Eating Meat (denialism blog)
~And of the course, the always-interesting (and one of the few blogs I think I always seem to agree with 100%) Locavore Hunter: Eating invasive species really is a great idea, why aren't more people doing it?
and (you took the words right outta my mouth): Deer meat more ethical than soy burger.
~Centuries of traditional cheese making in Poland (The Big Picture)
~Small-scale agriculture: it's important, yo (Nourishing The Planet)
~What does a cage-free, free range egg look like? (Urban Chickens Network)
~Family farming 2012: cattle round up (The Pioneer Woman)
~Skipping summer gardening to conserve water, what an idea (Ghost Town Farm)
~Another book I want to buy, An Everlasting Meal
~Antibiotic residues in feather meal, (Aetiology)

Lastly, some finds from the always awesome Shorpy Historical Photos
~Family farm portrait, South Carolina, 1908
~Hand-plucking chickens, Iowa, 1936
~Small farm in Georgia, 1935 (free range pigs!)
~Farmer with lamb, Kansas, 1936
~A kid and his calf, Iowa, 1940
~Fresh Thanksgiving turkeys, 1910
~Kansas City livestock exchange, 1906

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pit Bulls and Pattern Recognition

Pit bull smile

"Observations are the meat and potatoes of science"
--Irving Rothchild, Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Biology Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

One of my fave vet bloggers has an interesting entry about vets recognizing patterns when dealing with patients. She says:
Part of being a good doctor is learning to recognize patterns. This can generally be agreed upon by medical professionals. A more subtle part of being beyond good and being excellent is realizing when to ignore the patterns so that you don't miss something really important.
She goes on to describe a recent event where she used the age and breed of a dog as important factors of her initial diagnosis, and only later realized they were irrelevant.

Humans are great at pattern recognition. But we are also really great at fooling ourselves.

Perceptions are easily altered by expectations. And one of my great annoyances are people who mis-use scientific terms and ideas to further an agenda that isn't based on science, but on their own expectations.

People who support Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), are notorious for not only not knowing the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, but for hypocritically applying such reasoning to their own arguments.

Take, for example, some observations of from my own experience: By my own rough count, I have interacted closely with at least a hundred dogs who would be identified as "pit bull types" under BSL, and I've observed many dozens more from a distance. In many cases, the interaction was very stressful/painful for the dog. In other cases, it involved me approaching an unknown stray dog, catching it, putting in my car, and taking it to a shelter. In other cases, it involved me making the dog do something it didn't want to do, like go back into a kennel after a walk. I've never found any of my interactions with these dogs dangerous. I have not been injured. I was bitten once, and by "bite" (another word hard to define), I mean he closed his teeth on my fingers.

The prediction of BSL advocates, is that "pit bulls" are more dangerous than other types of dogs, in particular, they are more likely to bite a human, and when they do bite, it's more damaging. Yet my own, not insignificant experience this is not true. But all of MY experiences don't matter (to BSL advocates, anyway) because they're "only anecdotes". Observations and experiences from experts in the field don't count, either.

At the same time, BSL advocates demand that THEIR experiences and anecdotes ARE important and must be used as evidence for BSL. For example, a medical professional who has seen serious dog bite injuries first hand. They don't even feel the need to have seen a pit bull, nor do they feel the need to do any research about dog breeds; a second- or third-hand report is enough for them to support BSL.

What would it take for me to support a ban on, or elimination of, "pit bulls"?

There would need to be actual statistics about the relative dangers of different dog breeds. BSL advocates claim these exist, but they don't really.

For that to happen, there would need to be a relatively accurate "doggy census" performed so we'd know what our overall population of "pits bulls". Right now, we only have guesses about the true number of pet dogs out there, and an even vaguer guess about breed numbers.

For it to be relavant, mixed breeds would either have to be DNA-tested (a technology still frought with inaccuracies and plagued by false negatives), or  left out of the equation (making any real-world application of such a study nearly useless considering the large number of mixed-breed dogs out there).

Also for it to be relevant, "breed", especially "pit bull", would need to have a clear, unambiguous definition or it is useless to try to compare to other "breeds".

And here the problem really begins. "Breed" seems like such an easy thing to define, especially for the layman. The AKC has fooled a large number of people about what breed is and how it is defined: namely, that each breed is as distinct as its own species. But the AKC has only been around for 130 years. Dogs have existed for thousands of years. And the AKC only represents a fraction of the dogs and dog-owners out there.

Lets forget about the millions of unidentifiable mixed-breed dogs out there for a moment: Even within the population of AKC-registered dogs, breed characteristics blend together and overlap. Could your average animal control officer differentiate between a pure-bred Manchester Terrier and a Miniature Pincher?  Flat coated retrievers are not much more than black golden retrievers, and a number of the medium-sized terrier breeds are identical except for which colors are "allowed".

There's a reason that half the stray dogs put up for adoption in shelters are labeled "shepherd mix" - identifying the breed(s) of an unknown dog is difficult and often impossible. Some shelters have stopped doing it altogether, unless the physical traits are extremely obvious. Hence the birth of the "American shelter dog" breed.

What about all the "pure bred" dogs that aren't registered with the AKC, or at all? Pure bred dogs registered with a working dog registry are often very different looking than their AKC counterparts. Does that mean that one or the other isn't a valid registry? Or that one of those dogs isn't actually a "basset hound"?

Many "pure breds" aren't registered at all. A great example from my local area are working cow dogs. Most ranchers, if asked, would say they have a pure bred border collie or Australian shepherd, or heeler. Yet, most of the time, these dogs are not registered, are not part of a kennel club, and no one is enforcing a breed standard (except what the individual breeder had in mind when they thought "border collie"), and in many cases, the breeder isn't keeping track of pedigree for more than a few generations. These dogs tend to show a much wider range of phenotypes than AKC-registered dogs do. They blur the lines so much between the modern herding breeds that half the time, if the rancher didn't tell you, you could call an individual dog any one of those breeds. (And any one of them could be called a farm collie.)

"Breed" is very difficult to define if you think about it for more than thirty seconds.

Many BSL advocates would ignore all of this and simply say that most people know a pit bull when they see one, and can correctly identify one on the street. This is completely unverifiable speculation, and worse, has been proven wrong in several notable cases, including when  done by Animal control officers.

The more specific you get, the more useless breed definitions or identifications become. And by the time you get down to it in practical terms, what an individual dog looks like DOES NOT MATTER.

The main ways that breed identification are applied, are also the ways where it's completely useless in a practical sense.

1) An ACO picking up a stray dog off the street and bringing it into a shelter to be adopted out to the pubic.

2) A child approaching a strange dog: in a neighbor's yard, in the park, at the beach, whatever.

3) You're out jogging and see a loose dog up ahead.

4) You're getting ready to introduce your new baby to the family dog.

These examples are important for public health, and in each one the way a dog looks DOESN'T MATTER IN THE SLIGHTEST. If you have any brains at all, you'll be looking at the demeanor of the dog, how its acting, where it's eyes are looking, the hardness of its gaze, if its hackles are up, if its tense or relaxed, how its tail is positioned, or growling, or running or walking or panting ... the list goes on. How long its hair is or how floppy its ears are DOESN'T MATTER.

So why do BSL advocates try to pretend it does?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Teifa Update

1) She now loves the car. I no longer leash her between the house and the car. I just open the front door, give all the dogs their release word, and she runs with them (a space of all of 15 feet) and waits eagarly to jump into the jeep. It wasn't that long ago that I had to pick her up and carry her that same distance and place her in the jeep.

2) Likewise, she no longer seems to be afraid of doorways/thresholds, or at least the ones she's familiar with she no longer pauses before rushing through.

3) She has yet to have a single accident in the house. You'd think a feral dog would be a lot harder to house train, but I wonder if, because she lived only outside for so long, that she makes an even greater distinction between "outside" and "inside" than other dogs (who're raised indoors) do. My theory doesn't hold for Sammy, however, who was also an outdoor-only dog up until I got her at the age of 4 months, and she STILL will defecate in the house if I don't respond to her cues quickly enough.

4) Leash walks around a suburban neighborhood are still very stressful for her. But we went hiking in an off-leash area and she thought it was great. She still has a lot of work to de-sensitize her to people and vehicles.

Teifa chillin' in the back room on lunch break and watching what Zelda is doing off-screen.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Food Link for your Sunday

This is the best most coherent explanation of beef growing operations for a layman that I've seen, and it's from an actual rancher.

The vet I work for is a mixed practice, which means large and small animal. Probably 90% of our large animal patients are bovine, and most of our clients have some cow-calf operations.

Although I actively speak out against CAFO practices, one thing I try really hard not to do is dump on the ranchers. They really have little to do with what happens when they sell or move their steers to a feedlot. Really, the ranching side of the beef industry is quite nice for the animals. The cows get to spend their lives grazing in large pastures protected from predators, hang with their buddies, raise their babies without interference, and only get bothered by humans a few times a year.

Go to the link above and look at a typical rancher's profit margin. Americans want cheap, corn-fattened beef, and there's not much a rancher can do about it without either going out of business or switching to a niche market.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

First week with Teifa

"Feral" might be a strong word to use to describe Teifa, but I feel justified: she'd been on her own in the countryside on the outskirts of town for at least 6 weeks before we caught her. She's about 6 months old.

The woman had been watching the border collie puppy for weeks, leaving food out and slowly earning her trust to the point where, if the woman sat quietly on the ground, the girl would lay next to her to be petted. She said the pup seemed to want attention really badly, but was terrified at the same time. The woman wanted to keep her but already had four dogs of her own, two of which were ancient small breed dogs with health problems who couldn't handle a border collie puppy's play style. She knew that, even if she could catch the dog, taking her to the regional pound would be a death sentence for such a shy creature. There is no "dog catcher" or animal control where we live. I agreed to take her.

Day one:

I came armed with lunch meat and a slip lead. She had coaxed the pup into the house. When I came in, the pup was trotting back and forth nervously in front of the sliding glass door in the woman's dining room. When we walked in the room she froze, then ran to the corner. I turned away and sat on the kitchen floor, tossing a bit of lunch meat to her without looking. The woman followed my lead and sat down and we chatted quietly for about 10 minutes. But it only took about 3 of those minutes for the pup to figure out where the lunch meat was coming from. She'd dart forward, take a bite of lunch meat, then retreat 5 feet to eat it and think about things a minute before darting forward again. If either one of us moved too quickly, she'd run to the corner of the room.

I knew it was going to go well when she started taking meat from my hand almost immediately. After about 15 minutes, she let me rub her chest. As she got more comfortable with my presence, she started asking the woman for attention: running to her and wagging her tail and even play bowing, but she was too skittish to actually let us touch her very much.

Finally, the woman slipped the leash over her head. I decided to make a clean break and not let the pup think about the leash too much. I pulled her toward me and grabbed her in a firm hug and stood up. She struggled against the leash, but once I had ahold of her she froze (and urinated on my shirt a little). I carried her to the car and got in the back seat. I held her while my husband drove us home and she never struggled or made a sound.

I carried her to the bedroom/office and released her. We played the same game as in the kitchen: I sat on the floor and didn't look at her but kept offering her lunch meat. She didn't seem at all traumatized by my manhandling or the car ride, and was more than happy to take food from me. After about 30 minutes, she let me touch her head and ears and was rolling over to have me rub her belly. Still, any sudden moves and she leap up and run to the corner of the room, and she was very uncomfortable if I was standing up and wouldn't approach. She urinated a few times in submission/fear.

I let Sammy into the room. I thought her happy-go-lucky attitude and friendliness towards other dogs would help relax the pup, and it worked: Teifa watched me interact with Sammy, and something seemed to click. She would stay closer to me, and when I would call Sammy to me, Teifa would come, too.

After another 30 minutes, I let them out in the (securely fenced) yard. Teifa ran around sniffing everything, and watching what Sammy did, and darting in to me for a quick chest rub before running off again. I dragged an old blanket to the grass and took a nap in the sun. Teifa actually curled up against me for a few minutes. Eventually, I had Tom introduce himself to her. She urinated at the sight of him (an effect he has on many dogs). But after a few minutes of him laying on the floor, she was coming up, wiggling her happy/nervous wiggle for pets. At bed time I took a risk and let her loose in the bedroom. No accidents.

Day two:
 I took her to work to get a health exam and vaccinations because I'm paranoid about parvo and don't want to wait. I took Sammy along to help her relax. I carried her everywhere because I don't want to start leash training under such stressful conditions. I got an official weight: 40.6 lbs. Oof. She took the whole thing like she did the day before: stayed frozen and peed a little. I put her and Sammy in the car for the rest of the day (with potty breaks, of course) and they didn't destroy a single seat cushion.

Day three:

I did a little leash training in the living room: put the leash on and reward with treats if she gives to pressure. She did the typical "fish on a line" routine at first, but damn is she a quick study. Within 5 minutes she understood that giving to pressure equals cookie.

Day four:
Five more minutes of leash training. No more fish on the line. Left all the dogs loose in the house with a door open to the back yard while we're both at work. No messes, nothing destroyed. Whew.

Day five: Five more minutes of leash training. Tom is still veeeery scary when he first comes in the door, but I no longer make her pee herself no matter what I do.

Day six:
She greets me very enthusiastically when I come home, including jumping up to bite at my hair (border collies are weird). I try to play with her in the yard, but she still doesn't seem to get what toys are. She's more than happy to chase Sammy around as I play with her, though. She'll stop periodically to collapse on her back at my feet for belly rubs.

Today is day 8, and she's like a different dog. She'll jump into and out of the car, comes when called (mostly), no longer pees for me (though she will for Tom), and can take a leash walk around the block without freaking out (too much). She doesn't act like a dog that was abused, she acts like she's ignorant about people. Her fears are so easily overcome its wonderfully ridiculous. She has yet to have a single accident in the house. Even though I do things your not supposed to, like leave her loose in the bedroom at night (we haven't done any crate training at all yet).

Before you ask, yes, I considered keeping her. But no, while I love being over run with border collies, she'll make someone else a really nice dog pretty soon.